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hot stove 2010

The Red Sox, Stealing a Page From the Yankees Playbook, Are Winning the Off-Season

Back in 2008, the Yankees missed the playoffs and responded by signing CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett to contracts totaling $423.5 million. The Yankees had money coming off the books that off-season, of course, but Cashman left nothing to chance, spending his way back into the playoffs, and ultimately to a World Series title.

Now, after a season out of the playoffs, the Red Sox are taking a page out of the Yankees playbook, agreeing to terms with Carl Crawford on a seven-year contract worth $142 million, just days after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, who they'd like to eventually sign to a seven-year extension that could cost them some $154 million. It's the kind of off-season most teams can only dream of. Now, we've seen it twice in three off-seasons in the A.L. East.

The Yankees hand out $20 million contracts like they're bus transfers, but this is an unprecedented deal for a Red Sox player: He'll be the first player in franchise history with an annual average salary in excess of $20 million, and it's the second-biggest contract in terms of annual pay ever given to an outfielder. He'll also become the first position player in baseball history to sign a $100 million contract without having had a twenty-home-run season, though surely Theo Epstein understands that Crawford's speed and defense have value, as well.

To quote none other than Brian Cashman, who called the Crawford signing a "great move": "Boston's got the money, and they had a need." That first part, of course, makes all the difference: Plenty of teams have needs, and most of them need help a lot more than Boston, who won 89 games last year despite being devastated by injuries. Is Boston overpaying for Crawford? Perhaps, but they can afford to, and Crawford's an undeniably talented player.

The Red Sox used to protest the Yankees' free-spending ways, back when Larry Lucchino was calling the Yankees the "Evil Empire" for signing, of all people, Jose Contreras. (If only Lucchino knew who else the Yankees would steal away from Boston in the years to follow.) But Boston's apparently been taking notes over the past couple of years: Just like the Yankees scooped up Teixeira when it appeared he was bound for Boston — and after they'd already made one big splash with Sabathia — Boston won the Crawford sweepstakes when just yesterday it looked like he would sign with the Angels. Welcome to the dark side, boys.

And the Red Sox did more than steal headlines from the Yankees, who'd wrapped up Derek Jeter's deal just days before making their formal offer to Cliff Lee. They also took away the Yankees' off-season Plan B. Already, the Yankees reportedly upped their offer to Cliff Lee to include a seventh year, one in which Lee will turn 39 years old. Theo Epstein really couldn't have timed the Crawford signing any better. The real losers in all of this, though? The Rays, who instead of losing Crawford to the A.L. West Angels, lose him to a team within the division, in an off-season in which another rival may very well sign one of the best pitchers in baseball. But such is life in the A.L. East these days.

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Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images